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Synchrotron’s SXSI end

by Michèle Nardelli

Professor Bill SkinnerDeep down at the molecular and atomic level there are factors on the surface of things we don’t know enough about. But with the arrival of the huge x-ray power of the first Australian synchrotron in 2007, scientists will have the ability to discover more about how surfaces and molecules interact, more quickly and more cheaply.

A key part of the project will be a million dollar soft x-ray synchrotron (SXSI) end-station, which has been commissioned by a team of Australians including UniSA’s Associate Professor Bill Skinner (pictured left) from the Ian Wark Research Institute.

The size of a VW Beetle, the SXSI end-station will attach to beamline six on the synchrotron, adding even more sophisticated research capacity to the facility.

The SXSI end-station combines x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) with near edge x-ray absorption spectroscopy (NEXAFS) techniques.

All highly technical terminology, but as Prof Skinner explains, the equipment’s applications across industry are vast.

"The synchrotron and end-station will give the Australian science research community a new vigor because we will be able to work here on projects that we once needed to go offshore to complete," Prof Skinner said.

"The applications are enormous across key research areas such as those The Wark™ is engaged in – surface chemistry, minerals processing and materials science.

"NEXAFS technology is something that cannot be replicated in an everyday lab – it allows us to zero in on how surfaces and molecules interact right at the atomic and molecular level.

"So, for example, we can look at drug particles and work out how the orientation of molecules may add to or diminish the efficient delivery of the drug. We can examine how the structure of an implant surface can be better constructed at the molecular level to ensure it is accepted in the body."

Prof Skinner joined a team of colleagues from the Australian Synchrotron Research Program in Taiwan recently where the end-station, which was manufactured in Germany and Poland, was commissioned and tested with a series of measurements on minerals surface chemistry.

"As well as providing a powerful local tool for studying fundamental aspects of minerals surface chemistry, which will be a boon to the new collaborative Australian Minerals Science Research Institute, led by Professor Ralston at The Wark™, its applications in forensic science, pharmaceuticals, environmental sciences and biomaterials development are really exciting for the whole nation."